Inspired by kids, built by Burns & McDonnell.


It’s Kansas City’s most exciting K-12 STEM competition — Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains. Area schools can earn a piece of $155,000-plus in grants for STEM education by dreaming up an exhibit concept for Science City — and one student team sees its idea come to life in a big way! It’s a fantastic, no-cost experience for students and teachers — thinking big, collaborating and having fun. So far, more than 25,000 students in 55 school districts have benefited from this immersive educational opportunity.



  • No-cost, high-reward and relevant experience for students and teachers
  • A competition for all — general ed classrooms, teacher-led enrichment, gifted programs, etc.
  • Project-based learning that aligns with NGSS Science & Engineering Practices and can be incorporated into existing curriculum
  • Encourages teamwork, collaboration and executive functioning skills with a real-world challenge
  • Process aligns with 21st-century skills used by Burns & McDonnell professionals every day
  • Supports big thinking, a growth mindset and developing the “whole child”
  • Clear expectations and rules with a high level of support from competition organizers


Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains has two divisions: elementary (K-6) and secondary (7-12). Each team must design a STEM exhibit focused around a single topic or main idea.

  • Entrants must be full-time K-12 students and be currently enrolled in and attending a public, private, parochial or home-based school in any of the following counties:
    • KS: Atchison, Douglas, Franklin, Jefferson, Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami, Shawnee and Wyandotte.
    • MO: Bates, Buchanan, Caldwell, Cass, Clay, Clinton, Jackson, Johnson, Lafayette, Livingston, Platte and Ray.
  • A school may submit an unlimited number of entries.
  • Each team may have one leader or two co-leaders that are current school staff. Additional adults are considered mentors.


Judges carefully assess each team’s proposal based on the competition rubric.

  • Round 1: Entries are screened for compliance.
  • Round 2: Ten entries from each division are elevated to a top 20, where they are then evaluated against each other regardless of division. These scores account for 70 percent of the final rankings.
  • Round 3: The public votes to determine the remaining 30 percent of rankings.

Grant Distribution

The Burns & McDonnell Foundation awards $155,000-plus in grants. The grand prize winner also has the opportunity to work with Burns & McDonnell architects, engineers, construction managers, graphic designers and researchers to bring its ideas to life at Science City.

  • $50,000 grand prize
  • $25,000 finalist
  • $20,000 finalist
  • $15,000 finalist
  • $10,000 finalist
  • and 15 $2,500 finalists

The History

In 2011, our leaders created a gigantic idea: a competition to inspire kids to think big about STEM in support of Science City. The concept was truly unique in the academic space — students would compete to design a science center concept, which would come to life as a million-dollar exhibit at Science City. Since then, Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains has grown to become one of the most robust K-12 STEM competitions in the United States. Learn more about the journey.